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Study Questions Effectiveness Of Mammograms For Younger Women

May 4, 2010

Women under the age of 40 who have a mammogram are far more likely to receive a “false positive” than to actually discover that they have breast cancer, claims research published in Monday’s edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study, which was led by University of North Carolina radiologist Bonnie Yankaskas, looked at the records of 117,000 women between the ages of 18 and 39 who received their first mammograms starting in 1995.

By following their cases, the researchers found that no women under the age of 25 had a tumor, while 12.7 out of every thousand participants were called back for additional testing after the mammogram. An overwhelming number of those female patients received a clean bill of health, but not after incurring additional monetary expense and a heavy emotional toll.

“In a theoretical population of 10,000 women aged 35 to 39 years, 1,266 women who are screened will receive further workup, with 16 cancers detected and 1,250 women receiving a false-positive result,” Yankaskas and her colleagues said in their study.

“Harms need to be considered, including radiation exposure because such exposure is more harmful in young women, the anxiety associated with false-positive findings on the initial examination, and costs associated with additional imaging,” they added.

In November 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force stated that women in their 40s who were not at high risk for breast cancer (i.e. did not have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer genes) did not need to have annual mammograms.

Nonetheless, three out of every ten American women in their 30s report that they have had one.

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